David Arroyo gave Caisse d'Epargne its second stage win in a row, and as has been so often the case, a breakaway succeeded again in the 19th stage. Arroyo outsprinted his final break companion, Vasili Kiryienka of Team Tinkoff, who had done most of the lead work the last five kilometres. Nick Nuyens of Cofidis finished third as he led the peloton over the line 11 seconds later.
Arroyo and Kiryienka had been part of a 13-man escape group which got away early. With 45 km to go, the two plus Julien Loubet (AG2R) left the others behind to be reabsorbed by the field, but Loubet was unable to stay with the other two to the end.
"Being in the break and then even winning the stage is very important to me," said Arroyo, 28. "This victory is like compensation for all the work I do day after day, year after year."
Arroyo was supposed to have ridden the Giro d'Italia this year, a race in which he placed 10th in 2007. But he broke an arm in a training accident only two days before the race's start, which changed his schedule from the Giro and Tour to the Tour and Vuelta, thus setting up "the most important victory I have had so far."
Although Kiryienka did most of the lead work the last few kilometres, he did not complain about taking second – on the contrary. "For me this result is like a victory," the 27 year-old Belarussian said. "It was a hard course and especially the last kilometres that I was in the break. I was going well. "
"In the sprint I couldn't do anything because I was virtually pulling the last five kilometres. Arroyo was just staying on my wheel. He won very easily in the end," Kiryienka noted.
Arroyo, who was following his team's plan to set Alejandro Valverde up for a stage win, explained that he made it clear to Kiryienka that he would not work. "Thinking about it objectively, I believe the kid was naive, a little innocent", Arroyo said.. "I told him I wasn't going to take turns sharing the lead because our team's main goal was setting up Valverde, he just kept going and in the end he was more like a teammate than an enemy."
For his part, Valverde was please to see another of his domestiques get a chance to take their first Grand Tour stage win, even if it did come at the expense of his own glory. "It was a very tough stage but I'm very satisfied with the win by David Arroyo. The whole team worked hard for me, but in the end it turned out to be impossible to catch the breakaway, so David took advantage of his chance to win," the Spanish champion said.
How it unfolded
The group of Volodymir Gustov (CSC), Julien Loubet (AG2R), Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez, David Arroyo and Alberto Losada (Caisse d'Epargne), Javier Moreno (Andalucia), Christophe Kern (Crédit Agricole), Ruben Perez Moreno and Ivan Velasco Murillo (Euskaltel), Rémy Di Grégorio (FDJ), Iban Mayoz (Xacobeo), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas) and Vasili Kiryienka (Tinkoff) got away early. Joaquin Rodriguez of Caisse d'Epargne eventually joined the group and Kern dropped out.
The group never had a big lead, but it maintained that lead through the final climb at 88 km. At that point, favourites Carlos Sastre, Ezequiel Mosquera, Contador, Levi Leipheimer, and Valverde were able to bridge up to them. On the descent, Loubet, Arroyo and Kiryienka broke away and took off.
They were closely followed by the peloton, which was split by the furious speed. All the favourites were in the first chasing group, which was caught by its followers with about 24 km to go.
The break got up to 1:12, but shrank rapidly as Caisse d'Epargne led the chase, apparently determined to get the stage win for its captain Valverde.
With 10 km to go, Loubet had to let the other two go. From there on, Arroyo stayed on Kiryienka's rear wheel, forcing the Tinkoff rider to do the lead work. With the peloton breathing down their necks in the finale, Arroyo jumped with a few hundred meters to go and swept past his exhausted escape companion to take the victory by five seconds.